Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Battle of the Bulge remembered

The King of Belgium honored the American veterans of the Battle of Bulge, the largest land battle for American forces in war.

Veterans from across the United States returned Saturday to find this market town that was at the center of the fighting much as it was on that bitter cold December in 1944 — covered in snow and buffeted by wind.

The old soldiers, wearing military berets and caps, were greeted with warm applause, hugs and kisses from a grateful crowd that lined the streets.

"I’m very happy to see so many people come out for this event," said Miasy Dumont, 68, from nearby Ludelange, Luxembourg. "This is the last time I’m sure. In 10 years there will be no more veterans."

The king, joined by Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, R-Ill, led a commemoration and laid wreaths at the vast Mardasson memorial on the edge of town. The ceremony paid homage to the 19,000 American soldiers killed and about 61,000 wounded in the largest land battle for U.S. forces in World War II. The fighting also claimed 120,000 German lives.

Firefox is better

explains why I am using Firefox instead of Internet Explorer: It is as easy to use as Internet Explorer and--most important--much better defended against viruses, worms and snoops. Microsoft has some catching up to do.

I know what I’m getting for Christmas

My very own copy of the extended version Return of the King DVD! Here’s a review by Jonathan V. Last of The Weekly Standard.

I’ve promised my son a marathon trilogy viewing session sometime over the holidays. Has anyone out there tried that yet?

More on letting Christmas be Christmas

Season’s Greetings (actually a hearty "Merry Christmas") from the editors of The Weekly Standard.

A plea to sensible elected officials and litigators: would someone please throw down the gantlet or gauntlet to the sanitizing secularizers or secularizing sanitizers of the public square.

Bad Writing, contest or no

Perhaps it should not surprise us that an editor for Yale University recently admitted that twelve years ago university presses could count on 1000 guaranteed sales, but now it’s 200. And I bet literary theorists sell the least.

Mark Bauerlein, in Philosophy and Literature reviews a book about bad writing by academics. The issue, as a particular matter, revolves around the Bad Writing Contest, the winner--a professor of rhetoric at Berkeley--wrote this:

The move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relations in relatively homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to repetition, convergence, and rearticulation brought the question of temporality into the thinking of structure, and marked a shift from a form of Althusserian theory that takes structural totalities as theoretical objects to one in which the insights into the contingent possibility of structure inaugurate a renewed conception of hegemony as bound up with the contingent sites and strategies of the rearticulation of power.

The Faith-Based Initiative in the courts

Joseph Knippenberg reviews the state of the sweeping lawsuit aimed at dismantling President Bush’s faith-based initiative. The situation is bad, but not yet hopeless; by the time it reaches the Supremes, it is possible that Justice Thomas’ reasonable opinion (a proponent of neutrality) will be presuasive, and perhaps Stevens and O’Connor will have retired. 

Books on the internet

A librarian responds to Google’s attempt to digitize all the books in a number of major libraries and gathering all "the information in the world."
(Also see this below).
I am not asserting that this is the best, or the clearest, response that may be offered in favor books, I merely note that a librarian wrote it, never mind anything about knowing "the mind of God."

Charles Krauthammer and Christmas

I couldn’t resist calling everyone’s attention to this op-ed. As he often is, Charles Krauthammer is spot-on. Here’s my favorite paragraph:

I’m struck by the fact that you almost never find Orthodox Jews complaining about a Christmas creche in the public square. That is because their children, steeped in the richness of their own religious tradition, know who they are and are not threatened by Christians celebrating their religion in public. They are enlarged by it.

I could take this observation in a number of different directions, but I’ll restrict myself to a couple. Let’s begin with the e pluribus unum. A genuinely pluralistic community isn’t afraid to accommodate the pride and commitments of its constituent groups and to demand that they respect one another. This is a tough balancing act and one that does not materialize overnight. And it does not materialize, I might add, without some conflict. But the conflict, once resolved, becomes part of the shared cultural and historical glue--Lincoln’s "mystic cords of memory"--that holds the larger community together.

For me, the issue is how deeply the common culture must reach in order to be sufficiently robust to deserve the devotion of the constituent groups. Should we be content with John Rawls’s "overlapping consensus," principles of public accommodation to which each adheres for his or her own reasons? Or a mere modus vivendi, not much more than a truce? My touchstone for these matters is Aristotle’s definition of a genuine political community, which requires that we care about one another’s character. Can such caring coexist with deeply different fundamental faiths?

I’ll leave it at that, for these questions can’t be resolved in a blog.  

Lincoln as gay

Ken Masugi brought this New York Times article to my attention on a new book about to come out arguing that Lincoln was a homosexual.
This accusation is not new, yet it recurs, despite the evidence to the contrary, and despite all serious Lincoln scholars saying the contrary, including David Herbert Donald. This most recent example is made ever more questionable because C.A. Tripp, the author--a psychologist who is gay as well as a former sex reseracher for Kinsey--is contradicted by the writer he worked with. He calls Tripp’s book "a fraud" and charged that Tripp plagiarized material written by him and fabricated evidence of Lincoln’s homosexuality. The NY Times quotes someone named Larry Kramer, whom they identify as "the author and AIDS activist." Kramer "said that Mr. Tripp’s book ’will change history. It’s a revolutionary book because the most important president in the history of the United States was gay,’ he said. ’Now maybe they’ll leave us alone, all those people in the party he founded.’" Scholarhsip is what we have here, real scholarship.

Croissants not dynamite

Good morning. Greek’s
"freed hijack hostages on Thursday portrayed their Albanian captors as bungling criminals just after money who were easily manipulated and armed with croissants, not dynamite." I thought about adding something to this, you know, something pregnant with meaning, but why go beyond the necessary.


O.K., you know I’m avoiding reading term papers. I came across this in The Adventure of English: Melvyn Bragg notes some of the many words invented by Shakespeare, and that many of them have come down to us. But, he also notes that The Poet backed some words that proved to be losers, they have not come down to us.

He writes (p. 138) that Shakespeare’s "longest word, ’honorificabilitudinatibus,’ which means ’with honour,’ has also fallen out of fashion." Not caring about fashion, I tried to find it, but couldn’t. Was Bragg wrong? Even the OED doesn’t have it--although it has "honorificabilitudinity"--

and it does make a reference to it being used by someone named Nashe in 1599. And the OED also notes this, from someone in 1801: "The two longest monosyllables in our language are strength and straight, and the very longest word, honorificabilitudinity." Thought you’d like know. For now I assume, with Isabella, Truth is truth/To th’ end of reckoning. Wait, I found it! Honorificabilitudinatibus is in Shakespeare! It is in Love’s Labour Lost, V.i.44. Is the OED wrong? (LLL was published in 1598).

Now back to the papers!

The upcoming Arab revolt

Austin Bay notes that we are about to see a revolution in the Middle East: There will be a vote for a Palestinian president on January 9th, and, of course, the elections in Iraq. You will have noticed, I am sure, that some fundamental issues are moving toward resolution in both Iraq and Palestine. In both cases we are on the verge of replacing guns with ballots, and the political moderation necessary for the revolution. Is there a guarantee that all be well? Of course not. Yet, it is logically necessary to be optimistic. Bay outlines what’s going on.

Want health, get married

Is this the only argument in favor of marriage
today? "Married adults are more likely to be healthier — physically and mentally — than divorced, widowed, cohabiting or never-married adults, a new federal report says."

Volvos and professors

Nice little essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education on Volvos, professors and politics (oh yes, and students).

Charlotte Simmons

Here’s an interesting review. S.T. Karnick’s main argument is that Wolfe’s attempt to show, by means of his exposition of evolutionary psychology and neuroscience, that we are inevitably products of our environment, that here is no "self," "soul," or "free will," is (thankfully) unsuccessful.

"There is," Karnick argues,

a much simpler explanation for all of this, and it is right there in the events of the book. What is really happening in the story is something that theists have always known: that we choose to think the things we think, and that what we think will largely determine what we do.

That is precisely what happens to Charlotte and to all the other characters in the book. After all, it is only when Charlotte finally changes her simple, down-home, Christian way of thinking about what a human being is, and what choice means, that she descends into the personal miasma that is the inevitable consequence of the bad choices she makes. These latter, in turn, are the direct result of the bad ideas she chooses to hold. If she had kept to her old assumptions, her behavior would have been completely different. Of that, there can no doubt whatever.

Despite Wolfe’s extremely skillful and detailed efforts to show exactly how relentlessly events push Charlotte toward doing the things she does, he cannot conclusively establish that she could not have acted otherwise. Such a thing would be utterly impossible to prove, of course. One can only accept or reject it inductively. And that leaves freedom of choice as a possibility, and indeed the more likely explanation for her actions—the one that in fact best fits the facts of the story.

Read the whole thing. And appreciate the book, despite its flaws.

And, lest I forget, a colleague who almost couldn’t finish the book found this Book TV program on Wolfe somewhat redeeming. My friend, a sociologist (but the good kind), reported that Wolfe claimed a heavy debt to Max Weber in his latest novel.


Civil Rights Commission

Stanley Crouch approves of the new Chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Gerald Reynolds.
Categories > Race

Richard Wilbur

David Mason reviews Richard Wilbur’s Collected Poems, 1943-2004 for The Weekly Standard. For Wilbur, now 83, Mason says "being is a blind delight, unsolvable but worth living through." He writes that "What you get from Wilbur is small-scale refinement--and a lifetime of such lyric-making turns out to be more substantial than it may have first appeared." Mason points to this "transcendent lyric" by Wilbur, a homage to his wife of sixty years:

We are denied, my love, their fine tristesse/
And bittersweet regrets, and cannot share/
The frequent vistas of their large despair,/
Where love and all are swept to nothingness;/
Still, there’s a certain scope in that long love/
Which constant spirits are the keepers of,/
And which, though taken to be tame and staid,/
Is a wild sostenuto of the heart,/
A passion joined to courtesy and art/
Which has the quality of something made,/
Like a good fiddle, like the rose’s scent,/
Like a rose window or the firmament.

Peggy Noonan has a plan

A few days ago, I advised the Democrats--as if they listened to me!--to get a new plan for addressing religious issues. Well, ever the generous woman, Peggy Noonan has ridden to their rescue. Here’s her suggestion:

Have Terry McAuliffe come forward and announce that the Democratic Party knows that a small group of radicals continue to try to "scrub" such holidays as Christmas from the public square. They do this while citing the Constitution, but the Constitution does not say it is wrong or impolite to say "Merry Christmas" or illegal to have a crèche in the public square. The Constitution says we have freedom of religion, not from religion. Have Terry McAuliffe announce that from here on in the Democratic Party is on the side of those who want religion in the public square, and the Ten Commandments on the courthouse wall for that matter. Then he should put up a big sign that says "Merry Christmas" on the sidewalk in front of the Democratic National Committee Headquarters on South Capitol Street. The Democratic Party should put itself on the side of Christmas, and Hanukkah, and the fact of transcendent faith.

This would be taking a stand on an issue that roils a lot of people, and believe me those people don’t think conservatives are scrubbing America of Christmas, they think it’s liberals; and they don’t think it’s Republicans, they think it’s Democrats. Confound them, Terry! Come forward with a stand. It is the stand that is the salvation, not mysterious words or codes or magic messages.

Do this, Democrats. Announce you will apply pressure to antireligious zealots throughout the country. You have nothing to lose but a silly and culturally unhelpful reputation as the party that is hostile to religious expression. What you could gain is respect and gratitude. Pick up that Christmas tree, Terry, take it outside and put a star on top, stand next to it, yell Merry Christmas and ring a bell. That’s a manipulation of symbols that would actually make sense.

I like it.

Toward realignment, the South

Ronald Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times writes on the GOP lock on the South. The South is now a GOP fortress. It begins: "The generation-long political retreat of Democrats across the South is disintegrating into a rout." Across the thirteen states of the South, Bush carried nearly 85% of all the counties; Bush won 1,124 counties, to Kerry’s 216 (Clinton won more than 650 counties in each of his presidential victories). Bush has become the first candidate since Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940 and 1944 to carry more than 1,000 Southern counties twice.

"Kerry won fewer Southern counties than any Democratic nominee since the Depression except Walter F. Mondale in 1984 and George S. McGovern in 1972."

The GOP now holds 22 of the 26 Senate seats in 13 Southern states; before Bush took office in 2000 the GOP had 18; the GOP has now won the last 10 open-seat Senate races in the South. In the House, the GOP had 27 seats before Ush took office in 2000, now they have 40. There is more. Also note a couple of good lines from Karl Rove.

Ramirez Cartoon

Christmas Books

The Claremont Institute recommends some books to read during Christmas. The recommenders are: John Eastman (typical boring law professor stuff); Scott W. Johnson (hears America singing, good for him and us); Ken Masugi (unsurprisingly learned and relevant); Daniel C. Palm (very thoughtful, especially the Arkangel Shakespeare and The End of Illusions); Bruce Sanborn (tries to hoodwink us by recommending a book by an unknown college president); Thomas G. West (how perfect, four of the five books he recommends are published before 1750, note The Religion of Protestants especially).

Instead of recommending any, here are a few I am currently reading:
Joseph J. Ellis, His Excellency: George Washington, a bit too much contemporary psychology. George Friedman, America’s Secret War, thoughtful and disagreeable.

Xenophon, The Education of Cyrus is a great story that explains why men are not hard to rule (I need to be reassured). Tom Wolfe, I Am Charlotte Simmons, although I don’t recognize any of my students in it. Dannielle S. Allen, Talking to Strangers, as serious as it is unsatisfying.

And am just about to start Henryk Sienkiewicz’s On the Field of Glory, a great novel about the second siege of Vienna in 1683, and The Adventure of English: The Biography of a Language by Melvyn Bragg.

Do note that in recommending Don Quixote, Tom West notes that this was John Locke’s favorite novel. Locke: "There is another use of reading, which is for diversion, and delight. Such are poetical writings, especially dramatic, if they be free from profaneness, obscenity, and what corrupts good manners; for such pitch should not be handled. Of all the books of fiction, I know none that equals Cervantes’s History of Don Quixote in usefulness, pleasantry, and a constant decorum; and indeed no writings can be pleasant which have not nature at the bottom, and are not drawn after her copy."

Clint Eastwood’s latest

A.O. Scott gives a very positive review of "Million Dollar Baby," opening today. He says it’s the "best movie released by a major Hollywood studio this year." Roger Ebert goes a step further: "Clint Eastwood’s "Million Dollar Baby" is a masterpiece, pure and simple, deep and true. It tells the story of an aging fight trainer and a hillbilly girl who thinks she can be a boxer. It is narrated by a former boxer who is the trainer’s best friend. But it’s not a boxing movie. It is a movie about a boxer. What else it is, all it is, how deep it goes, what emotional power it contains, I cannot suggest in this review, because I will not spoil the experience of following this story into the deepest secrets of life and death. This is the best film of the year." I guess we have to see it.

Bloggers and writers

This New York Times article notes that a number of bloggers are writing books (but not about blogging). The fact that they have a built in audience has helped (as has the fact the they can write). I’m still waiting for offers! Not really interested in offers of $250,000 for my first novel (that’s what Wonkette got). I am moderate. About $12,000 would do (the cost of a Honda VTX 1800). I will continue to wait for the time, to paraphrase Churchill, when I can feel my words fitting and falling into their places like pennies in a slot. I’m waiting.

Napoleon and the French paradox

Daniel Mark Epstein marks the anniversary (this month) of the 200 years since Napoleon’s coronation. The Louvre has arranged an exhibit around Jacques-Louis David’s huge tableau. Epstein: "It is the celebration of a turning point in history and a controversial painter, and the illumination of a paradox at the heart of French culture." Read this short piece. Then read Paul Johnson’s Napoleon, then the best history of the revolution, Simon Schama’s Citizens. And, through it all, do not forget that the French Revolution produced Napoleon, while the American Revolution produced George Washington.
As Johnson says, "It does not seemed to have occurred to him [Napoleon] to study the example of his older contemporary George Washington, who translated military victory into civil progress and renounce the rule of force in favor of the rule of law."
How do you say, paradoxe in English?

Do we see a realignment yet?

"Editor and Publisher" notes that a new Gallup poll shows this: "In Gallup’s latest poll this month, those identifying themselves as Republicans jumped to 37% of the public, with Democrats now clearly trailing with 32%.

Democrats have long held more party members than Republicans. During the Clinton years, the bulge was about 5% to 6%. As recently as late-October of this year the Democratic edge was 37% to 34%." I am looking at some detailed figures of the Ohio vote (with Roger’s help since I can’t handle numbers on my own) and I will have some more to say on this issue soon enough. Robert Alt reminded me of this op-ed from David Broder, published on November 13, 2002, wherein he mentions that some Democrats are worried (Nancy Pelosi had just shifted "the center of gravity" of the Democratic Party) and Broder notes that Martin Frost (remember him? he ran against Pelosi for a day) warned that the party may become "a permanent minority party." And that was just after the 2002 defeat. Interesting. This
is what I said about the Broder piece at the time (November 2002):

If you read his article carefully you will note that the Democrats have put themselves in seven or eight different kinds of knots that they will find very difficult to get out of. The implication of these knots is that they will continue to play miniature politics; adjustments here and there only, thereby not allowing themselves as a party to stand for anything, unless they take the full-bore liberalism/progresssivism/populism mode. In that case they they will continue to lose.

Cabbie shoots man in bin Laden mask

In Costa Rica a startled taxi driver shot and wounded a jokester who jumped out in front of cars while toting a pellet rifle and wearing a plastic mask of the al-Qaida leader, Osama bin Laden. The cops let him off. (via Drudge).

All libraries digitized?

The New York Times reports that Google is adding major libraries to its database. Stanford’s head librarian says this: "Within two decades, most of the world’s knowledge will be digitized and available, one hopes for free reading on the Internet, just as there is free reading in libraries today." There are some things I find difficult to wrap my hands around, and this is one of them. Amazing, no? Read the whole thing.

Religion and the 2004 election

After the initial "values voter" mania, analysts of the 2004 presidential election have settled down a bit. Some very useful work was done by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, showing that the "values vote" perhaps wasn’t as significant as the initial exit polls suggested and that it wasn’t monomaniacally focused on abortion and gay marriage as pundits and commentators on both sides either celebrated or deplored. The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life organized a panel discussion of the election, featuring such luminaries as Andrew Kohut, E.J. Dionne, and, above all, Michael Barone.

Here are a few nuggets from that discussion. First, Andrew Kohut:

I think moral values and moral issues are important elements in politics, were important elements in the votes cast by American voters on Election Day, but the leadership gap was the one that was decisive in my mind. It was what convinced many independents to vote for President Bush and enthused many Republicans who were not enthusiastic about President Bush in the spring, to go out and cast their ballot for him. We saw, for example, in the early spring - or late spring rather - a significant number of moderate and liberal Republicans saying they were less satisfied with their choice of candidates than they were four years ago. Well, by the general election campaign, that had changed. The GOP, I think successfully, turned the election into a referendum - from a referendum on Bush to a referendum on Kerry, starting with the Swift Boat controversy and culminating in the convention, and it remained that throughout the election. I think the debates almost turned it around for Kerry but in the end, people could not get comfortable with him on the leadership dimension.

With Michael Barone, there are so many good points from which to choose, I’ll just snip one and urge you to go read the whole thing:

So when we’re saying - as Andrew did correctly - that religious conservatives, and for that matter seculars, were not a much larger share of the electorate than they were in the year 2000, we must also recognize that that means there was a whole, big increase in number of them that turned out; it’s just that they didn’t turn out by a larger increase than people of other religious beliefs or moral beliefs. So in that sense, the Bush efforts to get increased turnout among these people did succeed in a vast way and you found a real surge in turnout going up there. And as we saw, it seems that - it’s interesting that the volunteer model, this sort of civic connectedness, Alexis de Tocqueville model, did better than the union-paid workers model in turning people out - marginally in the battleground states, and to the extent it was used, much more so in the other states.

Folks on the Democratic left have also made further efforts to debunk the significance of the values vote. Here, for example, is a recent piece in the Washington Post. Reporter Christopher Muste concludes as follows:

So what’s the picture that emerges from all these numbers? A large and fairly stable group of moral values voters, whose numbers have been largely consistent over the past three elections, who vote Republican in roughly the same or smaller proportions year after year, who provided no clear winning boost to Bush, and whose idea of what constitutes moral values is hardly uniform. This is a poor fit for the reigning image of a crucial swing vote -- animated single-mindedly by cultural wedge issues -- that turned out in unprecedented numbers to push Bush over the top in 2004. It’s time to reel the moral values myth back down to earth.

There’s good bit of silliness in the article, as when he attempts to deconstruct the values vote in a way that is supposed to reassure Democrats and discomfit Republicans, but it’s still worth reading. He’s right, for example, when he argues that the values vote isn’t monolithically concerned with abortion and gay marriage, but that doesn’t mean that Republicans don’t do well on any number of other "values" dimensions. Democrats, preeminently the party of individual choice, have to strain to call themselves proponents of family values, an affirmation that comes much more naturally to religious conservatives.

My final nugget comes from the Pew Research Center again, this time from a December 6th commentary on religion and the presidential vote. Here’s the opening paragraph:

President Bush’s successful reelection effort owed much to the support he received from highly religious voters, especially white evangelical Protestants. But what has been largely overlooked is Bush’s success with less religious voters. In fact, compared with four years ago, Bush made relatively bigger gains among infrequent churchgoers than he did among religiously observant voters.

Yes, Bush was very, very successful with his core constituencies, but his gains were broad-based, encompassing virtually every element of the electorate. He gained with evangelical and mainline Protestants, Catholics, Hispanics, Jews, African-Americans, and seculars, with frequent church attenders and with those who never ever enter a sanctuary. He lost support only among "other" religious groups, which I guess means among Muslims. The same commentary points out that the size of various elements in the electorate has remained relatively stable over the past four years. Mainline Protestants have lost 1% and seculars have gained 1%; no surprise there. Those who attend church one or more times a week have lost 1% and "never" has gained 1%. My take: mainline Protestantism is continuing its gradual decline, with some folks heading to the evangelical churches on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings and others running to the store to pick up the Sunday New York Times. My advice to the Republicans: keep on keeping on. The Bush message of resolve and firmness appeals to religious and secular folk alike. My advice to the Democrats: the religious constituency to which you tried to hitch your wagon in the last election is in decline. Liberal Protestantism won’t go away tomorrow, but those pews get emptier and emptier, the heads in them get grayer and grayer, and nurseries in the C.E. wing get quieter and quieter. Time for a new plan.

Motorcycle Diaries

has a few good paragraphs on film "The Motorcycle Diaries," and rightly asserts that it "is a potent reminder that some on the left still hanker for the romance of Communism." The executive producer for the movie is Robert Redford, by the way.

Rove envy?

This op-ed by E.J. Dionne, Jr. I think is important. He weaves in the Democrat’s idological problem in selecting a new DNC chairman, with their envy of Rove’s (and the state GOP’s) amazing ability to organize and get their people out to vote. He envies the GOP’s ability to organize at the state level (and he should).

He thinks that the Demos jealousy of Rove "could have some useful consequences." Well, maybe. But what Dionne (or the Demos) don’t quite get is that there really is a connection between what he calls "strategic clarity and organizational acumen." He talks about how the GOP had very specific and targeted messages "to take Democratic voters away from us." He attributes this to the GOP’s use of "consumer marketing techniques," and calls it a technological revolution. The Demos, on the other hand, only used "old-fashioned
mobilization techniques."

My point is a relatively simple one. I do not deny that the Republicans were better organized, made great use of volunteers, followed a very specific strategy which they made quite public (although no one believed them!), and won the ground war just like they said they would. They were able to do this because 1) they had a message, 2) had a great candidate, and then 3) mobilized around those two things. The purpose of the organization effort is what Dionne forgets. He can talk all he wants to about organizing
Democrats on the state level, but if they don’t have a message or a candidate in a state, it will not work. It will not do them any good to talk about the means and the method, when they are unbale to talk about their purposes. They have always argued (certainly during the last 30 years or so) that if they just get more people to register, more people to vote, they will win. This election finally proved them wrong: they are no longer the majority party, perhaps not even a political party. The GOP not only got out the votes from those who have supported them in the past, they sliced into those groups that the Demos thought they owned: blacks, Hispanics, women, Catholics, etc. The Democrats should have more than Rove envy, more than Bush envy; they have GOP envy: they should envy the GOP’s purposes, not only its methods. That’s called purpose or design or meaning envy. The Demos problem is much larger than Dionne thinks.

Ambitious China

You should not only read this fine Mark Helprin piece on China in today’s Wall Street Journal, but you should file it away and pull it out in about ten years, all the while hoping that time will have proven him wrong! You don’t have to agree with every big point he makes, or alludes to, merely note the gravity and the eloquence of his case that China harbors major ambitions and is working diligently toward them; and we are doing nothing.


Traian Basescu a sea captain turned politician, won a surprise victory in Romania’s presidential run-off election held on Sunday. He is supposed to be more Western oriented than his opponent, the leader of the Social Democratic Party. Note that Basescu made his fame as mayor of Bucharest: There were too many wild dogs, he had them shot, Brigitte Bardot flew there to protest (animal rights and all). She didn’t get anywhere. Basescu became popular. Note near the end of the article how difficult it will be for him to form a government and why multi-party parliamentary systems are highly imperfect ways of trying to form majorities, and why the electoral college is a good thing!

Marc Rich and the oil-for-food scandal

Wouldn’t it be something if this New York Post story ends up with legs?

Billionaire Marc Rich has emerged as a central figure in the U.N. oil-for-food scandal and is under investigation for brokering deals in which scores of international politicians and businessmen cashed in on sweetheart oil deals with Saddam Hussein, The Post has learned. Rich, the fugitive Swiss-based commodities trader who received a controversial pardon from President Bill Clinton in January 2001, is a primary target of criminal probes under way in the U.S. attorney’s office in New York and by Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, sources said.

Powerline wins!

Powerline has won the Best Overall Blog award. Congratulations to the three muskateers! They edged out Little Green Footballs; Johnson might want a recount.

Ohio electors vote

Well, I was there. The twenty electors voted as ten people protested outside, as this AP story notes. The whole thing went off without a hitch, but not so in Minnesota, where one "faithless elector" cast a vote for John Edwards for president, rather than John Kerry. I spoke briefly at lunch, just to congratulate them for having done their constitutional duty, and to remind them that self-government is the subject of our story. I concluded by reading Lincoln’s Fragment on the Constitution and the Union.

Electoral College

I am off to the Ohio Senate chamber this morning as a "distinguished guest" to observe the electors vote. The first Ohio electors voted for Thomas Jefferson in 1804. The process has remained essentially the same since then. Votes are cast for president and vice president by the twenty electors. Secretary of State Ken Blackwell is the presiding officer and he then signs a "transmittal" of the vote and sends it to the president of the U.S. Senate (V.P. Cheney). Cheney will announce the national totals on January 6th. I addressed the electors four years ago. This time John C. Green (Bliss Institute, University of Akron) will do the honors and I have been asked to say a few words at the lunch that follows. I’ll report on the event later tonight.

"Democratic Providentialism"

Michael Ignatieff has an interesting piece on "Democratic Providentialism" in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine.

While he begins and ends with a not-very-compelling discussion of the President’s belief that freedom is God’s gift to humanity, the meaty middle is worth the price of admission.

Here’s a sample:

But while you may not like the providential aspect of democratic providentialism, it remains true that the promotion of democracy by the United States has proved to be a dependably good idea. America may be more unpopular than ever before, but its hegemony really has coincided with a democratic revolution around the world. For the first time in history, a majority of the world’s peoples live in democracies. In a dangerous time, this is about the best news around, since democracies, by and large, do not fight one another, and they do not break up into civil war. As a result -- and contrary to the general view that the world is getting more violent -- ethnic and civil strife have actually been declining since the early 1990’s, according to a study of violent conflicts by Ted Robert Gurr at the University of Maryland. Democratic transitions can be violent -- when democracy came to Yugoslavia, majority rule at first led to ethnic cleansing and massacre -- but once democracies settle in, once they develop independent courts and real checks and balances, they can begin to advance majority interests without sacrificing minority rights.

Much of what he has to say comes from a new book, The Democracy Advantage, by Morton Halperin and others. Despite its provenance in the Clinton Administration, it looks like it’s worth putting on your Christmas wish list.

Oh, to curl up next to a roaring fire and read!

Intelligence reform bill

I haven’t said much about the intelligence reform bill passed by Congress, because I don’t claim to understand most of it; and the things I think I understand about it don’t make that much sense to me. I don’t think it is going to have any immediate effect on fighting terrorism by making our intelligence capabilities better; this is certainly the impression the MSM gave us during its campaign to get the bill passed (it is possible, of course, that over the long run it could do a lot of good). Also, I am always sceptical about so-called reform initiatives (see what happened to campaign finance reform). Reforming creeky institutions is difficult, if not impossible, without a great exertion from above. Someone has to take charge of an agency and take names and kick some rear in order to make sure that the agency in question is less interested in pushing its own agenda, in fighting its own battles, in thumping its own chest at the expense of the national interest; that’s right, the national interest as laid out by (especially in times of war or crisis) the executive branch. Why is it, for example, that the Department of State is so hard to control? Sometimes I think they think of themselves as an ombudsman between our rash president and an enlightened world. And this attitude didn’t start with W.’s presidency. This mode of this hard-to-direct, if not rogue, agency has been around for a while now. Is it possible that our intelligence apparatus is in the same state of disrepair? I think--for a while at least--it will prove more interesting to keep our eye on what Porter Goss is doing (and has done) as DCI than to watch what is going to happen with these so-called reforms. Goss (clearly, with W.’s support) is up to something. And what he is doing may have more to do with reforming our intelligence apparatus than the bill just passed. Now it is not necessarily the case that Goss will play Remirro de Orco to W.’s duke, but it is certainly the case that Goss’ subalterns are finding in him a "cruel and ready man". The president may want to end Goss’ excessive authority when the reformation takes place, take the credit, and leave everyone (who’s still around) in the spy business satisfied and, just maybe, even stupefied.

In any case, here are a few articles from the MSM on the intelligence reform bill.

Dana Priest & Walter Pincus write for the Washington Post, and this is Douglas Jehl for the N.Y. Times. I also cannot help but note that, as soon as the bill was passed, even those drum-beaters in the MSM who were most vocal in supporting it have already started questioning whether it will do any good. Bad sign.

More on Beinart’s false hope

George Will considers Peter Beinart’s call for a renewal of old liberalism a la 1947 (and beats up on Robert Kuttner in passing). He thinks it an admirable exercise, similar to what Bill Buckley did regarding the Birch Society in the 1950’s, but, alas, Will thinks Beinart will not be so successful. How can he convince a base that is fueled (as it would seem) by the likes of Michael Moore and As a relative matter, Buckley’s GOP base was hardly influenced by the Birchers; besides, they were wrong about some things, yet did not have contempt for the American people, as Beinart’s liberals do.

The reason that Moore is hostile to U.S. power is that he despises the American people from whom the power arises. Moore’s assertion that America "is known for bringing sadness and misery to places around the globe" is a corollary of Kuttnerism, the doctrine that "middle America" is viciously ignorant.

William Voegeli wishes Beinart luck with giving liberalism a fighting faith for the second time, but he is also not optimistic. He thinks that liberalism crossed the Rubicon with Vietnam, and there is no going back to the ADA of 1947; in fact the ADA, along with Arthur Schlesinger, et al, left their 1947 version of themselves in 1967 when they broke with LBJ. Besides there is a connection between their domestic and foreign policies. A snippet from this thoughtful essay:

We should expect, then, that the same qualities will animate liberalism’s domestic and foreign policies. Whether dealing with terrorists abroad or delinquents at home, the first impulse will be the same. As Joseph Cropsey wrote forty years ago, "The liberal view is consistent with itself in applying to domestic as well as to foreign affairs the dictum that trust edifies and absolute trust edifies absolutely." Accordingly, liberalism’s faith in forebearance and mediation is as strong in the international arena as in the domestic: "Among nations, [liberals believe], there are no genuine issues but only attitudes or states of mind which, if they are inconducive to peace, can be removed by the methods of conflict resolution, or exorcism of mass delusion and neurosis."

Democratic Ghana

The elections in Ghana last week were transparent, free and peaceful.
John Kufuor won a second and final four-year term as president. Ghana has come a long way from the oppression, socialism, and instability it experienced for so long after becoming the first sub-Saharan colony to become independent in 1957. This is the fourth election since 1992. Also see this BBC report, and this from Uganda.
For background, see the CIA’s World Factbook.

Another academic meeting

Canadian Sociology and Anthropology Association is meeting next June and there is a call for papers. Scroll down the list for the sessions; there must be about 100 of them (I wonder how many people attend each panel?). Some of the sessions are notable: Sociology of Automobiles and Automobility; Critical Whiteness Studies and Critical Race Theory; Environmental Sociology; Transsex Identities; Being Gendered, Doing Gender; Studies in Symbolic Interactionism; and, my favorite, Pervert Studies: Considerations of the Social Life of Sex, Pleasure and the Erotic.

Money in the campaign

AP summarizes the money each party (and their allied 527’s) raised this year and last. 527’s opposing Bush raised $266 million, those opposing Kerry raised $144 million. The DNC outraised the RNC by several million, but Bush raised a record $273 million, an all-time presidential record, while Kerry raised a Democratic record of $249 million. "Whatever the reasons John Kerry and the Democrats lost the race for the White House, lack of money wasn’t one. Tax-exempt pro-Democratic groups raising big checks for this year’s election collected almost twice as much money as their Republican rivals in the presidential race, a study shows. The financial advantage comes in addition to record fund raising by Kerry, the unsuccessful candidate, and the Democratic Party."

Europeans as Ents

Victor Davis Hanson asks will the Eurpeans "slumber on, muttering nonsense to themselves, lost in past grandeur and utterly clueless about the dangers on their borders?" Are the Europeans like Tolkien’s Ents? "These tree-like creatures, agonizingly slow and covered with mossy bark, nursed themselves on tales of past glory while their numbers dwindled in their isolation. Unable to reproduce themselves or to fathom the evil outside their peaceful forest — and careful to keep to themselves and avoid reacting to provocation of the tree-cutters and forest burners — they assumed they would be given a pass from the upheavals of Middle Earth."   

German poll

A German poll shows that "more than 50 percent of Germans believe that Israel’s present-day treatment of the Palestinians is similar to what the Nazis did to the Jews during World War II, a German survey released this weekend shows.

51 percent of respondents said that there is not much of a difference between what Israel is doing to the Palestinians today and what the Nazis did to the Jews during the Holocaust, compared to 49% who disagreed with such a comparison." And, if that’s not bad enough, "The survey also found that 68 percent of Germans believe that Israel is waging a ’war of extermination’ against the Palestinians, while some 32% disagreed with such a statement." You might want to glance at this essay, "Anti-Semitism and Ethnicity in Europe," by John Rosenthal. And you might as well glance at this speech by Jacques Derrida, one of his last before expiring. It is not unrelated to the above, and is most certainly an interesting and revealing exposition of what he sees Europe to be now and in the future as it moves into the new enlightenment and become the cradle of counter-globalization.

Bush’s religious rhetoric

Today’s Washington Post has a story on Michael Gerson, Bush’s chief speechwriter. Here’s Gerson’s defense of the religious references in Bush’s speeches, as reported by Alan Cooperman:

[O]n the whole, the speechwriter argued, Bush’s references to the role of providence in human affairs have been carefully calibrated and fully within the tradition of American civic religion. He said that Bush, like other presidents from George Washington to Bill Clinton, has expressed trust in God without claiming to understand all of God’s ways.

And here’s Gerson’s response to those who think that Bush speaks in religious code:

"They’re not code words; they’re our culture," he said. "It’s not a code word when I put a reference to T.S. Eliot’s ’Four Quartets’ in our Whitehall speech [in London on Nov. 19, 2003]; it’s a literary reference. Just because some people don’t get it doesn’t mean it’s a plot or a secret."

Here’s the final tidbit, on the President’s frequent assertion that freedom is God’s gift to humanity:

Gerson said the president wrote those words. They are, he said, a repudiation of the kind of "American exceptionalism" that holds that God has chosen the United States as his special instrument, and an echo of Abraham Lincoln’s assertion that Americans should strive to be on God’s side rather than claiming that God is on their side.

Required reading for students of religion and politics, and a refreshing break from the myopic nonsense about Bush’s religion that often appears in the mainstream media.

Rumsfeld and the troops

WSJ’s "Best of the Web" led me to a website I hadn’t yet encountered. The site of the Democracy Project includes numerous posts by Wilfred M. McClay, a very smart and thoughtful guy who happens to live in Chattanooga, which happens to be the hometown of the reporter who orchestrated the now infamous question posed by the soldier in Kuwait.

Here’s a sample of McClay’s prose (you’ll have to scroll down the page to find the whole entry, which he posted on December 10th; he posted again, also interestingly, on the 11th):

It happens that I have some younger friends in that same unit, and I’m aware of the fact, since this unit does not yet have direct experience of Iraqi conditions, the questioner could not possibly have based his question on firsthand knowledge. Nor could the embedded reporter. That there would be widespread anxiety prior to a deployment, on a variety of matters, is entirely understandable. There always is. For a reporter to gin up the anxiety level with one guy, and then manipulate the results into "news" is precisely the kind of MSM behavior that bloggers have rightly been complaining about. Also misreported is the fact that Rumsfeld gave an excellent answer to this ambushing question. Even if you grant that it was a good question, why not also report that it got a reasonable answer, from a SecDef who was not afraid to field such questions?

Read both entries. And bookmark the site. Bill McClay is always worth reading. And his colleagues, mostly alumni of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, are no slouches either.

This is also a good time to think in a larger way about the role of press. A good beginning for such a consideration is Robert D. Kaplan’s latest offering, "The Media and Medievalism." Here’s a sample:

If what used to be known as the Communist International has any rough contemporary equivalent, it is the global media. The global media’s demand for peace and justice, which flows subliminally like an intravenous solution through its reporting, is — much like the Communist International’s rousing demand for workers’ rights — moralistic rather than moral. Peace and justice are such general and self-evident principles that it is enough merely to invoke them. Any and all toxic substances can flourish within them, or manipulate them, provided that the proper rhetoric is adopted. For moralizers these principles are a question of manners, not of substance. To wit, Kofi Annan can never be wrong.

Read the whole long thing.